Tuesday, August 4, 2015


Memorial Service for Professor Emeritus Robert A. Burt to be Held Nov. 1

Yale Law School Professor Emeritus Robert (“Bo”) A. Burt ’64, died August 3, 2015 in Massachusetts. He was 76 years old. A memorial service will be held on Sunday, November 1, at 2 pm in Levinson Auditorium at Yale Law School.

Burt was a beloved member of the Law School and of the larger University community. He served as the Alexander M. Bickel Professor Emeritus of Law and Professor (Adjunct) of Law at Yale University. He was an expert on constitutional law, as well as on issues found at the intersection of law and medicine. He thought long and deeply about questions of religious culture and law. He was one of the great contemporary scholars on the relationship between psychoanalysis and social order.

“It is a great loss to this community, to the world of legal scholarship, and to the many friends throughout the globe who loved Bo,” said Dean Robert C. Post ’77. “Bo was a dear friend and a generous colleague. He was wise as well as learned.”

Sterling Professor of Law Anthony Kronman, former Dean of Yale Law School, recalled his close friend and colleague as "brilliant, kind, and profoundly attuned to the hopes and fears of human beings."

"Those who knew Bo personally saw these qualities firsthand. But they are all reflected in his scholarly work as well, and anyone who has read anything that Bo ever wrote will have some sense, at least, of the man behind the words," said Kronman.

"Over the course of his career, Bo wrote on many subjects, seemingly remote from one another. He wrote a seminal book on the relation between doctors and patients. He wrote another on the role of the Supreme Court in our legal and political system. And his most recent book was a marvelously original study of the Book of Job in the Hebrew Bible," recalled Kronman.

"The range of Bo's interests and accomplishments is startling enough. But what is more amazing still is that all of his writings express Bo's unfaltering belief in the value of conversation, dialogue and the continuing struggle to find common ground, and an abiding suspicion of authoritarianism in all its forms, whether it be a doctor's imperious prescription, or the Supreme Court's deaf assertion of power, or even God's declaration that he need not explain himself to anyone at all."

Kronman continued, "Bo's humane resistance to the reliance on mere power and his insistence that every type of authority, human or divine, is an interactive achievement, is the theme of all his writings. It represents the enduring achievement of this noble human being. It is there in his work for all to see. Still, I miss the man himself, and count his friendship among the best things that have ever happened to me."

Professor Burt joined the Yale Law School faculty in 1976 after having served on the law and medical school faculties at the University of Michigan and the law faculty at the University of Chicago. He began his career in 1965 clerking for Chief Judge David L. Bazelon, of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. From 1966-1968, he served as a legislative assistant to Senator Joseph D. Tydings of the United States Senate prior to entering academia.

Among his most notable publications are his most recent books, In the Whirlwind: God and Humanity in Conflict (Harvard Univ. Press, 2012); Death is That Man Taking Names: Intersections of American Medicine, Law and Culture (Univ. of California Press and the Milbank Memorial Fund, 2002); The Constitution in Conflict (Harvard Univ. Press, 1992); Two Jewish Justices: Outcasts in the Promised Land (Univ. of California Press, 1988); and Taking Care of Strangers: The Rule of Law in Doctor-Patient Relations (Free Press, 1979).

Professor Burt was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law (serving as chair from 1990-2000). From 2003 to 2012, he was a member of the Advisory Board of the Greenwall Foundation Bioethics Faculty Scholar Program; and from 1993 to 2003, he was a member of the Advisory Board of the Project on Death in America of the Open Society Institute. He was also a member of the Institute of Medicine and served on the IOM committees on Care at the End of Life (1995-97) and on Ethical and Public Policy Issues in Xenograft Transplantation (1994-96).

Professor Burt received a J.D. degree from Yale University in 1964, an M.A. in Jurisprudence from Oxford University in 1962 and a B.A. from Princeton University in 1960.

Professor Burt is survived by his wife of 51 years, Linda G. Rose, and two daughters, Anne and Jessica.